On Whose Say So?
Having had a baby out of wedlock, having been raped, Carrie Buck (Marlee Matlin - Hear No Evil) finds herself committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, where having been declared to be mentally incompetent she is the subject of compulsory sterilization surgery. Carrie's case comes to the attention of law clerk Melissa Prentice (Melissa Gilbert - Touch of Truth) who persuades her boss, Adam White (Peter Frechette)m to take up Carrie's case as she not only disagrees with Carrie's diagnosis but also the idea that feeblemindedness can be passed on to children. But in doing so it leads to Melissa and Adam going up against Arthur Kent (Pat Hingle - Lightning Jack), Melissa's physician uncle, who is a supporter of compulsory sterilization.
"Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" ends up one of those frustrating made for TV movies where on one hand you have some clearly hard hitting and upsetting elements when it comes to the attitudes of some people in the period in which it is set, which in this case is the mid 1920s. But then on the other hand you have some cliche elements which you often find in TV movies made in the mid 90s which sadly suck some of the power out of the movie. Don't get me wrong as "Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" is still eye opening and in truth upsetting, especially as it is based on a true story, but it needed to give you more than it does.
So let me tell you what will upset you in "Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" and it starts with hearing the idea that those who are deemed to be feebleminded should be sterilized so that in a generation the feebleminded will be wiped out from society. I can't believe people actually thought this to be true and you have to give credit to actors, such as Pat Hingle, for managing to sound convincing when it comes to delivering not just the dialogue about compulsory sterilization but also the discriminatory nature of their characters. On top of this there is also the sexism of the time with Melissa having to contend with the patronizing tone of her uncle who thinks she should be a mother and a wife rather than concerning herself with the law. And then there is the abuse of the system with Marlee Matlin delivering a fantastic performance as Carrie Buck, bringing out the raw emotion and pain that Carrie suffers.
But as I said "Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" is also frustrating because of the cliche side and unfortunately that comes from Melissa Gilbert and Peter Frechette who not only deliver cliche as the moral crusaders but romantic melodrama which whilst some may accept as part of any TV movie wasn't needed in this one. In fairness to Melissa Gilbert and Peter Frechette it is hard to compete with someone like Marlee Matlin who is in stunning form in this but when saddled with far too much cliche their jobs were always difficult. And it is simply the cliche nonsense which ends up diluting the impact that this upsetting true story is trying to deliver
What this all boils down to is that "Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" is hard hitting due to the subject matter and it certainly doesn't shy away from an ugly episode in America's history. But at the same time the cliche elements which are squeezed in to the movie end up sucking some of the power out of the story.